The Blacklist finale recap: A blessed life, a tragic end
With their bookend titles, I expected the tone of this "Konets" installment of the season 8 Blacklist finale to match the "Nachalo" installment that came before it. I expected more flashbacks, more black-and-white memories, more unraveling of the mysterious Blacklist mythology, and maybe even Liz dying a slow death after her bullet wound in Latvia. I didn't expect a quick recovery followed by sun-dappled strolls in Central Park, silly helium voices, a series of sweet phone calls to family and friends, and a fairly simple plan for how to move forward after spending an entire season at odds. It wasn't arthouse Blacklist or high octane Blacklist… it was The Blacklist boiled down to its most component parts: Raymond Reddington, Elizabeth Keen, and what they mean to each other.
In the end, the season 8 finale was a retrospective of lives — well, maybe not lives well-lived in the most moral sense of the word, but certainly lives lived fully. And all along, we knew that Reddington's full life was scheduled to end tonight, at his own insistence. But about the time Liz started calling everyone on her speed dial and telling them how much she loved them, we probably also realized that who lived and who died in this episode was never destined to go according to plan.
I'll tell you right now, I did not want this ending; I did not want this konets. I understand that Megan Boone's fully reasonable desire to have season 8 be her last on The Blacklist necessitated an end to our journey with Elizabeth Keen. But couldn't she have gotten some answers on the way out? Couldn't she have learned the truth about Raymond Reddington? And I don't know, depending on how you saw the final moments of her life flashing before her eyes, maybe she did. But we definitely didn't. Not-Chekhov's-letter explaining in great deal who Raymond Reddington is to Elizabeth Keen went unopened just like we knew it would when it arrived in the first act — you learn a thing or two after watching a show for eight seasons…
But it does make an eight-season-audience-member wonder: if Liz is no longer the motivation for exposing the truth about Raymond Reddington on The Blacklist, then who or what is? What does the mystery of The Blacklist look like moving forward? Because you can rest assured that after every end comes a new beginning — at least when it's a story that's already been renewed for a season 9.
I love the opening shot of this episode where it seems like we might still exist in the black-and-white memory limbo that most of the last episode took place in. But it's just the ash settling from Reddington blowing up an entire Cold War-era bunker. Red, Dembe, and Liz emerge from the bunker-within-a-bunker that protected them from the blast and confirm that Townsend is dead, which Liz tells Red means she's not just feeling good enough to walk; she's ready to fly.
Indeed, the next time we see them, everyone is aboard a jet back to D.C., including a doctor who's giving Liz a mostly clean bill of health. As soon as they're back, Reddington surprises Liz with Agnes (who calls him "Pinky" instead of "Red," which is extremely adorable). Then he heads to the Post Office to tell Cooper what's been hinted at all season long: Raymond Reddington is dying. But when Red gives Liz the same news, it comes with quite a few more caveats. He seems genuinely nervous when he tells her that the conversation he's been trying to have with her for days — the one about who he is and why Katarina arranged for him to watch over her — ultimately ends with a letter. A letter written by Liz's mother "for when the time was right to know the truth." Liz exclaims that the time has surely come, but Red tells her there's one thing she has to do before she can read the letter: "Take my life… literally and metaphorically."
Okay, now HEAR HIM OUT!
Reddington says that Liz has known for a while that he's sick, and killing him and taking over his empire is the only thing that can truly protect her. Townsend found out things about Reddington that he surely didn't keep to himself, and now Liz and Agnes will be in more danger than ever. If Liz kills Reddington and takes over his empire, it will prove to any homicidal parties that she is a force to be reckoned with: "That you did what no one else could… you found and executed Raymond Reddington."
Of course, Liz's reaction is an immediate no — not only does she not want to take over Red's empire, but she doesn't really want to kill him anymore. But when she links up with Cooper, he tells her that his greatest desire is for her to be safe, and points out that taking over for Red means taking over the Blacklist, which could potentially mean taking over his immunity deal, as well. "You'd have a reason that you could feel good about," he tells her. And that feeling is reinforced when Liz runs into a teenage girl who recognizes Liz as "Agent Keen." Her name is Beth Ryker, and she's the grown-up little girl that Liz saved from a bomb in the pilot episode of The Blacklist. Beth tells Liz that she thinks about her all the time, and thanks her for saving her life all those years ago. But when Liz tells Beth she's no longer an agent, she seems disappointed: "Most people just live their lives, but you made the world a better place… so whatever you decide to do now, I really hope you can keep doing that." Yeesh kid, no pressure!
Still, Beth triggers something in Liz, and she meets Reddington in Central Park to ask him what taking his life — literally and metaphorically — would actually look like.
He tells her that the next night, his friend Pascual's restaurant (the one he's used as his office all season) is finally opening, and there's a party for friends and family. Red will stay late, until after the children and families have left, and then he'll make his exit. Dembe will still be inside saying his goodbyes when Red leaves the restaurant, where Liz will be waiting in her car outside, ready to shoot him. It will happen right outside the door of the restaurant so that when Pascual is asked for CCTV footage by the police, they'll find Elizabeth Keen standing over Raymond Reddington's body — an image that will be splashed across every newspaper in the world by the next morning.
So… that's what it would look like if Liz killed Red and took over his empire. But Liz says she doesn't think she could actually pull the trigger, no matter how many times she's wanted to before. Red tells her not to worry about that right now: "Let's just… be."
And for a few moments on a nice afternoon, they are. Red, Liz, Agnes, Dembe, and Mrs. French wander around Central Park; they get popsicles, they look at the Alice in Wonderland statues, and sail boats in the Conservatory Water pond. And they do it all to the lovely, and a little bit heartbreaking tune of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know." And despite Ressler and Aram both advising Liz not to go through with killing Reddington in order to take over his criminal empire, somewhere within this day, she decides that she will — in exchange for an answer to one question. Liz wants to know why she can't read her mother's letter until after Reddington is dead. "Because if you knew who I am before, you'd never agree to kill me."
So, with that, there's only one thing to do: kill Raymond Reddington.
Red and Dembe have a number of poignant, introspective moments in this episode, including Red telling Dembe that what they've built has been thrilling and fulfilling in ways he can't begin to describe: "But at some point, it became clear to me that I wasn't really in control of any of them… no matter how much I try, I have no control over how any of this ends. And that is crushing."
Oh, how true those words will soon come to be. Red hands Dembe the letter with explicit instructions not to give it to Elizbeth until he's gone, and they head to Pascual's. Liz waits outside the restaurant on the phone with Agnes, who asks her mom why she sounds so sad. Liz tells her that her friend is sick, but she thinks he's trying to be brave. "I think he feels fortunate… that he's lived a good life, that he's seen a lot of interesting places, and has a lot of friends that love him," Liz says sadly. And Agnes, little wise one that she is, tells her mom that it sounds like her friend is blessed, a word Agnes knows because it's how Liz always describes her dad: "Even though daddy had to leave, he was okay with that because he felt blessed to know me when I was a little baby."
It's at that point I start crying and don't really stop until the credits roll, although the steadiness of the stream rises and falls at various points. While Liz exchanges I-love-yous with Agnes, the Task Force starts exchanging notes about the conversations they've had with Liz over the last few days. Most notably that there's no way Reddington could just hand over his empire to her and everyone would accept it. She'd have to make a statement to earn respect and demonstrate her value — and that's when they realize that Liz is going to kill Reddington, and it was probably his idea.
Ressler makes a break for it from the hospital, and Cooper, Aram, and Park head out with an infantry toward Pascual's — but it's too late. Reddington is already heading outside, as Dembe hangs back. We see Liz emerge from a car in the background, and they round the corner to get in the right position for maximum visibility. Elizabeth Keen pulls a gun on Raymond Reddington…
"I can't do it, I don't want to," Liz tells him. "That's alright, I understand," Red says back as a gunshot rings in the air, and a bullet tears through Liz's back, into her chest, blood spreading all over her white shirt.
Liz drops to the ground, and behind her stands Townsend's righthand man holding a gun. Red immediately shoots him dead, but there's no unringing this bell. As the camera lingers on Liz's face, we enter her mind where all the good things in her life are flashing by: the swing with her mother, a million moments with Tom, Cooper, Aram, Dembe, Sam, Dom, Jennifer, Ressler, Ressler, Ressler. As Reddington runs back to her, she's envisioning every moment with Agnes, and she's smiling — it's a blessed life she's had, no matter its obstacles. When Red gets to her, Liz sees him… she sees him now, and the day she met him, and all the moments in between. There's the fire, and there's Katarina, and then Katarina's face becomes Liz's face, and then there's just Reddington, holding Lizzie as she dies.
Dembe forces Reddington off the street before more of Townsend's men show up, just as Ressler, Cooper, Aram, and Park converge on the scene and find their friend and colleague dead on the ground… but not the one they were expecting. It's the end of Elizabeth Keen, and for Raymond Reddington — and us — it simply has to be a new beginning.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
I'm sad. With deaths on The Blacklist, you never truly know — but with actor's contracts, you do. This really is the end of Elizabeth Keen on The Blacklist. The final montage, at least, was a lovely way to send her out.
Did anyone else think that all those lingering shots on teacups and wine glasses meant Reddington was poisoning himself so that Liz would be forced to kill him whether she wanted to or not??? Just me??? Is eight seasons too long to watch The Blacklist???
It honestly hurts my feelings that Ressler and Liz finally fell in love minutes before her death, so I really can't talk about it.
Was killing Liz (and presumably intending to kill Reddington) Townsend's righthand man's attempt at commandeering his empire?
And as for the Reddington/Katarina of it all, we only get one real clue since the letter is never opened, which is Liz pulling out the classic photo of herself as a child, with a sun-covered Katarina standing behind her, and asking Red what his relationship was with her mother that he would dedicate his life to keeping Liz safe. She asks Red if he was there that day of the photo, if he was the one standing behind the camera. "I was there," he answers, ambiguously.
What could Liz have read in that letter that would have made it impossible for her to kill Reddington, hmm? Hmmmmm?? HMMMMMMM?!
As always, thanks for reading along — and along, and along, and along — with me here. I'll miss you like I miss Elizabeth "Lizzie" Keen.
(Video courtesy of NBC)
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.